However, doing what some might consider crazy things in the name of beauty or vanity is nothing new. The concept of vanity dates back to the 13th century. The Latin root for vanity means "being empty." It's associated with the feeling of being valueless. In the world of art, Vanitas is a type of still-life painting that contains symbols like skulls, clocks, burning candles, and rotten fruit to remind us of decay or aging, and of the transient nature of life. Even the vanity mirror suggests narcissism. You all know who Narcissus is, right? He was a beautiful boy who was doomed by his love for his own reflection. He used the first "mirror": the reflective surface of still water. Narcissus' love for his own reflection is forever remembered in psychology as a pathology called narcissistic personality disorder that can be characterized as an excessive need for admiration and affirmation.
We have been looking in mirrors to find our imperfections for a long time. Discs of highly polished obsidian were probably the first mirrors. The Egyptian, Greek and Roman people looked at themselves in mirrors made of polished metal. In the 15th century, it was discovered that colorless glass on a metallic background created a clear reflection and thus the modern mirror was born.
It is enlightening to research what women have historically been willing to do to look younger or more beautiful. Coloring one's nails can be traced back to 3000 B.C. Even in China, where the true anti-aging medicine originated, women used other techniques to look unlike themselves. A pale complexion was a reflection of wealth and gentility so women used powder very early in China's history to lighten their skin color. They used lipstick to enhance the shape of their mouths, shaved their eyebrows and used olive oil to make their hair silky and shiny. Some historians suggest that they were attempting to have "eyebrows the shape of silkworms and lips in the form of a cherry." Then there's the shape of the body. Women not only bound their feet but their breasts as well to prevent being perceived as immoral. In and before the Han Dynasty, being quite slender was considered ideal. But in the Tang Dynasty, heavier women were considered most attractive. Many cultures have given women mixed messages about what is considered attractive.
Apparently many women are willing to go with the flow of the current trend of "how I should look". Perhaps learning more about shen disturbance will help us treat women who have this condition. SI 19 is a facial point that also helps calm the spirit. Du 24 is said to access the central one of the nine palaces of the brain as well as the material of the spirit. It is said that the entire spirit that expresses in the face has its origin in the palace called ni wan. To me, it seems lovely that the use of acupuncture can bring more of my spirit, more of who I really am, to my face.
I have heard that Japanese women used bird droppings to lighten their skin. An ancient medical text in Egypt contained a recipe for a skin-rejuvenating acid peel. Cleopatra used poultices made of donkey's milk to smooth her skin. She even traveled with a supply of donkeys so that she would have continuous access. The Egyptians loved dramatic eye makeup. Some of it was "natural"; crushed beetle wings used as eye shadow, for example. More commonly, eye makeup contained lead, mercury, malachite, chrysocolla, or copper as key ingredients. People didn't think of it as dangerous; they actually thought of it as medicine. Mummies have also demonstrated that permanent makeup has been around for a very long time.
Those cosmetic procedures from ancient history were all just a prelude to nose jobs in the 1950s, breast augmentation in the 1960s, tummy tucks in the 1970s, and now chin implants, hair replacement, pectoral resurrections, skin peels, wrinkle fillers and a growing number of other procedures that are used to fight the effects of aging or make us more attractive. Women have been putting their health at risk in the name of beauty for centuries. There's a pattern here that is looking young and beautiful is more important than protecting one's health.
Here's an interesting idea; why not use acupuncture points that help take toxic heat out of the system, balance the pulses to ensure that adequate qi is flowing to the head (skin), make certain that the lungs are supported to improve immune and skin function (again, through proper diagnosis of the flow of qi through the channels), balance and support the organs that affect moisture of the skin (liver, kidneys, spleen and heart), and also take an herbal formula to help control acne/blemishes. Lu 7 is one of the command points of the head according to the teaching of Gao Wu. It is the meeting point of the Lung and Ren channels so it sounds as though it may be a good point to include in the treatment of premenstrual acne. Think about which channels are near the acne or if it is on a channel. That will give you information right there about how to treat it. We know that energetic imbalances can manifest on the skin.
I think that people must start to accept that changes in appearance as we age are natural and pretty much unavoidable. Hair grays. Skin gets dryer and less able to stretch or remain smooth. It sags. We get age spots because our pigment cells decrease in number so the ones that are left group together. The fat layer under the skin becomes thinner and contributes to giving the skin a loose look. We are even more likely to get some sort of skin disorder as we age.
However, receiving Chinese medicine treatments, be it cosmetic acupuncture, facial rejuvenation or facial acupuncture, may ward off the potential to age less gracefully than we would like. Education about the anti-aging effects of acupuncture treatments, herbal remedies, qi gong and other therapies in our medicine is necessary. One part of that message must be that it is important to start young. Start to manage the causes of aging before they get out of hand, before our energy gets too depleted or stagnated. Teach about the importance of good digestion for vibrant skin and hair. Talk about the functions of some of the acupuncture points in terms of skin care. We have the tools to stop the assaults on the body that people are willing to endure in the name of beauty and youth. We have the knowledge and skills to stop our patients from picking poison over proper medical care.
Click here for previous articles by Martha Lucas, PhD, LAc.